Wordsmith Essays’ Pet Peeves, Part IV

We here at Wordsmith Essays read dozens upon dozens of essays, correcting grammatical mistakes, adjusting spelling and phrasing, fixing punctuation, and generally giving advice as how to improve writing.

While doing so, we’ve come across the same errors made time after time.  It doesn’t seem to matter the grade level of the writer, or whether they’re a native English speaker or not—some mistakes just seem to reoccur time and again.  Here are a few more of our recurring pet peeves:

Unclear Pronoun Antecedents

The antecedent of a pronouns is the word the pronoun is standing in for, and it needs to be clear what that pronoun is.  If I said “President Lincoln gave his speech”, you know that “his” refers to Lincoln—it’s the only noun in the sentence it could refer to.

But what if I said this sentence?

  • Take the computer off of the desk and fix it.

What is “it”?  Am I asking you to fix my computer, or am I asking you to fix my desk?  It’s unclear; the pronoun could refer to either one.  Or what about:

  • The managers told the employees that they would receive a bonus if they finished on time.

Who’s getting the bonus, the managers or the employees?  Again, it’s unclear.  You’ll have to rephrase the sentence or replace the pronoun to make the sentence work.  Sometimes, in casual speech, you can figure out what people are trying to say from context—but you don’t want to rely on that in essays.

Incorrect Pronoun Usage

Bob gave they them a new car.

Subject and object can be confusing some times in English—we talked about that briefly last time when talking about who and whom.  Pronouns are especially tricky; English has a different set if they’re being used as the subject of the sentence or the object of the sentence.

If your pronoun is performing the action, they are the subject—use I, you, he, she, it, we, they, what or who.

If your pronoun is having the action performed on it, they are the object—use me, you, him, her, it, them, what or whom.

You’ll notice “you”, “it” and “what” appear in both lists.  That’s because English, at times, is horrible, and we deeply apologize.

As always, if you want to ensure that everything in your essay is correct and flows well, stop by Wordsmith Essays’ order page today.  Our team of international editors will help you get the most out of your writing.

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